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Poetry & Musical Lyrics | Blake Wrote The Sidewalks of New York

Updated on October 30, 2014

What's A Stanza?

Stanza: a group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem; a verse.• a group of four lines in some Greek and Latin meters.

Day Two Grandchildren's Poetry Reading

This, day two, of reading poetry to my grandchildren as a night-time ritual, now puts me in a tailspin all day long. A whirlwind of ideas spin and spin, each colorful item, smiling face, knock on the door, news article and recipe can bring the memory of a poem.

Alternately, opening the anthology or surfing the internet, like my own Stumbleupon, brings many wonderful, classic and new poems to the surface. What selection shall be chosen this day?

Thoughts of Subject Matter

We create a filter

once we put our minds

on the path of creativity

Everything we see and touch

becomes the possibility

for poetry and song

The Sidewalks of New York

Sidewalks Of New York

Down in front of Casey's old brown wooden stoop

On a summer's evening we formed a merry group
Boys and girls together we would sing and waltz
While the "Ginnie" played the organ
On the sidewalks of New York

That's where Johnny Casey, little Jimmy Crowe
With Jakey Krause, the baker, who always had the dough
Pretty Nellie Shannon with a dude as light as cork
She first picked up the waltz step
On the sidewalks of New York

Things have changed since those times,
Some are up in "G"
Others they are wand'rers but they all feel just like me
They'd part with all they've got, could they once more walk
With their best girl and have a twirl
On the sidewalks of New York

East Side, West Side, all around the town
The tots sang "ring-a-rosie," "London Bridge is falling down"
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke
Tripped the light fantastic
On the sidewalks of New York

Lyrics & Music By: James W. Blake and Charles E. Lawlor

Sidewalks of New York, Duke Ellington, on 78 1927 Victrola Credenza

1914 Image Cover from sheet music of "The Sidewalks of New York", by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake. New
1914 Image Cover from sheet music of "The Sidewalks of New York", by Charles B. Lawlor and James W. Blake. New | Source

A Poem and A Song

"East Side, West Side"

American vaudeville performer / composer Charles B. Lawlor, (1852 – 1925) and lyricist James W. Blake (23 September 1862–24 May 1935). wrote, "The Sidewalks of New York" about New York City life in 1894; and became a favored theme. This song has taken a life of its own, with many versions, sung by famous singers, and a variety of musical renditions popularly played by bands and orchestras throughout the ages.

Many artists, including Mel Tormé, Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, Larry Groce and The Grateful Dead, have performed this song. Governor Al Smith of New York used it as a theme song for his failed presidential campaign in 1928.

Everyone recognizes the last line of each stanza, which has been interchanged as the title. Lawlor hummed the slow waltz tempo while visiting the hat store where Blake worked and eventually the two collaborated on putting the melody to paper with Blake creating the lyrics.

The words of the song tell the story of Blake's childhood, including the friends with whom he played as a child, namely Johnny Casey, Jimmy Crowe, Nellie Shannon (who danced the waltz), and Mamie O'Rourke (who taught Blake how to "trip the light fantastic," an extravagant expression for dancing).

When I read this poem to my grandchildren, I added an extra stanza inserting their names. That's where you can be inventive and catch their attention. I've often done this while reading to the children.

That's where little Yissy, and brother Yossy
With baby Rina play, dancin' in the backyard
On such a pretty day, in a sing-song way
asking dad to take a ride to cousin Jakie
On the sidewalks of New York

Today, the kids would not understand the meaning of the lingo of that day and how the story implies the parting of ways. The song is sung in nostalgic retrospect, as Blake and his childhood friends went their separate ways, some leading to success while others did not ("some are up in 'G' / others they are on the hog").

Nat King Cole- On The Sidewalks Of New York

Ring A Ring A Roses 1972

Hidden Disease Reference

Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
"Ashes, Ashes"
We all fall down!

Ring-a-Ring o'Rosies
A Pocket full of Posies
"A-tishoo! A-tishoo!"
We all fall Down!

Note how the falling down reflects London Bridge

History | We still sing the English version, Ring a Ring o’ rosies, or the American version, 'Ring Around The Roses,' in pre-school and elementary days which has historical reference to sickness and death.

Disease symptoms of the Great Bubonic Plague (1665) of London, when around 70,000 died, (a large percentage of the city’s total population of 460,000) and the initial 1300 outbreak of the Plague (year 1300) included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy).

Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs ( or posies) which were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells.

The term "Ashes Ashes" refers to the cremation of the dead bodies! The death rate was over 60% and the plague was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats which carried the disease which was transmitting via water sources.

The English version of "Ring around the rosy" told of the violent sneezing or coughing, symptoms before death, in A-tishoo, A-tishoo was replaced with Ashes, ashes in the rhyme.

The bodies of plague victims were usually cremated, so this later adaption still works within the original idea. We all fall down - This last line states the final result of the plague - death.

  • Panati, Charles. Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. New York: Harper & Row, 1987, 196.

Love to write? Want to join an author community? THIS IS IT!
Love to write? Want to join an author community? THIS IS IT! | Source

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Beautifully Sung Like Cartoon Background Music

About the Author

Debby Bruck, CHOM founded Homeopathy World Community social network. Debby believes that homeopathy is the wave of the future that provides hope and healing to those who have tried every other approach. Visit her blog or follow Debby on Twitter.

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    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      6 years ago

      Hello Aanel - Based upon Wikipedia, "The song is sung in nostalgic retrospect, as Blake and his childhood friends went their separate ways, some leading to success while others did not ("some are up in 'G' / others they are on the hog")." In addition, another interpretation can be the era's slang. "What up" or "What's new?" or "What's happening?" Or "What's going on?" or "New?" I wonder if it has anything to do with "G" street in New York, as well. I would say it means they are well off and have made it successful.

      The letter "G" has meaning in hip hop slang that means "Gangster." All of this tells us we can have many levels of interpretation of this line in the poem.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Blessings, Debby

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      What does "up in 'G'" mean? You quote is as if you understad it's meaning but you don't explain it. Could you tell us what it means?

    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      7 years ago

      Glad you liked it, Frank. Have a lovely day.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      7 years ago from Shelton

      Very clever Hub.. yeah up and clever!!!!

    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      7 years ago

      WOWEEE ~ I have a "hub-buddy!" You've made my day. I will do the best I can. Love, Debby

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA


      I "second" the remarks made by epi in that the work I have read by you is so careful and professional, really a pleasure to read and always a learning experience for me.

      This was voted UP & UABI-- loved it!

      You are fun and a real sweetheart! I feel blessed to be your Hub buddy, so glad that we have become pals. Please keep up the great work and have a lovely week, mar.

    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      7 years ago

      Hey Epi Man - You are truly special. I hope you heard the audio reading of one of your poems I did a couple of weeks ago. Your work is a national treasure -- as someone once said. But, it is late. Until next time. Debby

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      ....really great work here Debbie - you put so much care and consideration into your hubs and your enthusiasm always shows with your world class presentation of words, images and background story - this is what essential hubbing is all about! I am quite thrilled actually - and quite thrilled in meeting you.

      lake erie time ontario canada 4:15am

    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      7 years ago

      Derdriu ~ Many thanks for appreciating this special Hubpages in honor of the children. It was especially difficult to create a new approach to such a well-known poem and song. I've been told that each person brings their unique qualities to something even though a story may have been told over and over for generations. This makes it all worthwhile. Blessings, Debby

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Debby Bruck: You offer us all such an expressively written and tightly organized look at one of the world's most accomplished and exciting cities through a compelling poem/song. Your creative addition for your grandchildren is clever and heartwarming. Thank you also for the "history lesson."

      Voted up, and also across all categories,


    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      7 years ago

      Hello Dear Friends. I really really really appreciate the support. Yes. New York City is a wonderful place to visit. Hugs, Debby

    • profile image

      Kavitha Kukunoor 

      7 years ago

      Dear Debby,

      I love all the work you do. This poem is excellent.

      Thank you


    • prasetio30 profile image


      7 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I love this city. New York is always beautiful like your poem. Well done and thanks for share with us. RATED UP!


    • Debby Bruck profile imageAUTHOR

      Debby Bruck 

      7 years ago

      Hi Will ~ Specifically, my grandson, who inspired this special project, really enjoys the phone call and discussion. My daughter says, "Gee! you sure were talking a long time." Isn't that nice? I'm surprised at how much he knows, while at the same time, we discuss a number of new words. Blessings, Debby

    • WillStarr profile image


      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Very nice work, Debby! How are your grandchildren responding?


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